Mannix: Blake shooting has 'broken the spirit' of NBA players

Jaylen Brown

NBA players came to the Orlando bubble intent on continuing the fight to end systemic racism in America. But the events of the past 72 hours have demonstrated there's still plenty of work to be done.

Many NBA stars -- from LeBron James to Donovan Mitchell to Boston Celtics teammates Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart -- have delivered powerful statements following the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man who was shot several times by a white police officer Sunday in Kenosha, Wisc.

Yet Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, who's been in Orlando for the duration of the NBA restart, has observed a group of players devastated by this latest act of police violence against a Black American.


"I think it has broken the spirit of every player inside this bubble," Mannix said Tuesday night on NBC Sports Boston. "I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I went to a handful of practices today, I watched it on Zoom calls with the others, and just being around these guys, you could tell that what happened to Jacob Blake has broken them."

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Mannix noted there was a vocal contingent of players -- led by Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving -- who considered not joining the NBA restart this summer amid concerns their return to basketball would distract from the push for racial justice sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.


After Blake's shooting Sunday, Mannix said, players are wondering if those concerns were valid.

"What it's gotten them to start thinking more and more about was the merit in coming to Orlando to begin with," Mannix said. "As we know, Kyrie Irving spearheaded a phone call amongst nearly 100 players where the message was, 'Guys, don't go. Don't participate in something that could become a distraction.'

"And one thing Jaylen Brown said was that he felt like this had become a distraction -- that the attention had been taken off the Black Lives Matter movement over the past week or so as the playoffs have picked up."

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It appears some players are considering more drastic action after Blake's shooting: Members of the Celtics and Toronto Raptors reportedly met Tuesday night to discuss boycotting Game 1 of their second-round playoff series Thursday.

The bottom line: Racism in America still is front-of-mind for NBA players in Orlando, and Blake's shooting was a disheartening reminder that their activism has yet to bring about real change.